Tuesday, 19. April 2016

Silicon Valley in the Rhine Valley?

Start-Up Week in Düsseldorf: US Ambassador spoke at the “WHU Entrepreneurship Roundtable”

Today’s economy, labor market and society would be unthinkable without start-ups. As a source of inspiration, they drive innovations at established companies, too. As part of Start-Up Week in Düsseldorf, on April 13, the “WHU Entrepreneurship Roundtable” at WHU – Otto Beisheim School of Management convened business founders, students, investors and businesses to discuss innovation opportunities through corporate venture capital.

“Corporate venture capital” describes investments by companies and firms in start-up or private companies. In this area, investors pursue not only financial goals but also strategic goals, such as strengthening business fields, gaining access to (technical) innovation and diversification. In addition to providing equity capital, resources and management support are made available as well. Today, a growing number of German corporate groups rely on expanding their in-house venture capital activities.

The successful German start-ups of the last century are today's established companies among the German small and medium-sized enterprises, the “German Mittelstand”, so highly respected worldwide, explained US Ambassador John B. Emerson, keynote speaker at the “WHU Entrepreneurship Roundtable,” at the outset of his remarks. This makes it all the more important to promote the activities of young business founders. It makes no sense to try to reinvent Silicon Valley in Germany. Instead, the point is for policy-makers and the business community to work together to create an innovation-friendly climate, Emerson pointed out, arguing for a liberal immigration policy and the free-trade agreement TTIP as a great opportunity for start-ups. With reference to the United States, he noted that Germany still lacked a culture of failure, and he advised founders to try out something new and to learn from mistakes. “Young entrepreneurs should not be the only risk takers,” Emerson said as he appealed to investors to accept and share in small and medium-sized risks when investing in start-ups.

Following the presentation, Emerson joined with WHU Alumnus Uwe Horstmann, Partner at Project A Ventures; Jewell Strong-Sparks, Global Head of Innovation Scouting & Inclusion at METRO; and Dirk Nachtigal, Managing Director at BASF Venture Capital in exploring how much innovation corporate venture activities can achieve. They shed light on the pros and cons of corporate venture capital from the perspective of investors and founders.

In a brief presentation, renowned companies, investors and founders offered added insight into the current corporate venture capital landscape in Germany and presented the organizational structures of national and international corporate venture activities and successful partnerships. A selection of 16 start-ups presented their respective business ideas in a showroom during the event. The ideas included for instance the HiMate! platform that brings refugees and businesses together; or Evopark, a start-up launched by WHU alumni that allows cashless access to parking garages by means of a parking card.

The "WHU Entrepreneurship Roundtable" team with John B. Emerson, United States Ambassador to Germany

Opening remarks by Professor Dr. Markus Rudolf, Dean of WHU

Participants of the "WHU Entrepreneurship Roundtable"

John B. Emerson, United States Ambassador to Germany

Panel discussion with Chris Grew, John B. Emerson, Uwe Horstmann, Jewell Strong-Sparks and Dirk Nachtigal (fltr.)